The government told a parliamentary panel on Tuesday that while the Army had crossed the LoC to hit targets earlier too, September 29 was the first time they had entered Pakistan’s territory to destroy terror launch pads.
Responding to a question by Congress’s Satyavrat Chaturvedi, foreign secretary S Jaishankar told members of Parliament’s standing committee on external affairs that the “surgical strikes” carried out by the Army in the wake of the Uri terror attack differed in nature from the operations the Army had undertaken earlier on the other side of LoC. The earlier strikes were also different because of the fact that, unlike in the latest instance, they were not publicised.
Chaturvedi, a senior Congress member of the Rajya Sabha, had sought to know from the foreign secretary and other functionaries from the government whether surgical strikes had been carried out earlier too, the objective of the post-Uri operation and whether clearance had been taken from the government.
“If the question is that did the Army cross the LoC in the past too, the answer is yes. But if the question is that did the Army carry out an operation to destroy launch pads of terrorists across the LoC, the answer is no,” a source in the committee quoted the foreign secretary as saying.
Late on Tuesday, news agency PTI issued a clarification regarding a report wherein it had quoted Jaishankar having told the committee that the “surgical strikes” were not unique and differed from the previous ones only in that it was publicised.
The agency said the foreign secretary’s purported statement was based on what it had gathered from opposition MPs who are members of the standing committee. It quoted a government source as saying, “What the FS said is that the key issue is that we went public after conducting the surgical strikes which conveyed a politico-military message. Whether any previous crossing had been done only the Army would know. But it is irrelevant anyway because there was no message.”
Sources said the foreign secretary, who was accompanied by defence secretary Mohan Kumar, Army vice-chief Lt General Vipin Rawat and other officials, also emphasised that the Army had acted on the basis of precise intelligence to carry out what he called a “counter-terror operation”.
Jaishankar, who refrained from using the term “surgical strike”, said the September 29 operation was meant to send a strong message across to Pakistan and to the world at large that India would not silently suffer terror strikes any more. Hence the decision to go public about them, said the top diplomat, adding that in a democratic set-up like India, the Army was mandated to seek clearance from the government for such operations.
The testimony of the foreign secretary that the previous strikes across LoC were different –PTI quoted him describing them as “professionally done, target-specific, limited calibre counter-terrorist operations”– comes in the wake of skirmish between BJP and the government on the one hand, and Congress on the other over whether the “surgical strikes” of September 29 were unprecedented. Congress has claimed that the Army had crossed over the LoC at least on three occasions under the UPA.
However, the claim has been disputed by defence minister Manohar Parrikar who has said that LoC crossings by the Army before Uri were limited in nature, which were taken at the level of the local army commander and required no political go-ahead. His assertion, which was endorsed by former Army chief General J J Singh as well as Lt General Vinod Bhatia who served as Director General of Military Operations under UPA.